Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Any two sound waves have a random chance to constructively interfere with each other at a given spot and this will cause an increase or decrease in pressure. So is it possible that a large number of local noises in a loud environment could interfere perfectly at a single point, such as on a person or building, and cause damage? I'm not worried, just curious if this is a daily occurrence or if the probability of it is extremely low or if it can even happen.

share|improve this question
2  
It depends on the sound waves and the medium . Have a look at mecheshier.hubpages.com/hub/… –  anna v May 27 '13 at 4:16
add comment

2 Answers

Let's say you have $n$ sources, each producing a sine wave of amplitude $A$, and they combine with random phases. In principle, the sum could be as large as $nA$, and if $n$ is very large we could imagine that this amplitude could be big enough to be destructive. However, because the terms being added are independent and identically distributed, with finite variance, the central limit theorem tells us that the probability distribution of the sum should be well approximated by a normal (Gaussian) distribution. Normal distributions have thin tails, so the probability of a very large sum is negligible.

To get extreme values ("black swans") of a random sum with high probability, you need to violate one of the hypotheses of the central limit theorem. E.g., in economics, many times the individual variables don't have finite variances, and instead of a normal distribution for the sum, you get a Levy-stable distribution, which has fat tails.

share|improve this answer
add comment

You're right that sound waves can interfere constructively or destructively leading to dead spots or live spots (which is an effective phenomenon to be considered when constructing large auditoriums) which can be harmful sometimes.

Your example of local noises in buildings fail for one reason you mention ...

So is it possible that a large number of local noises in a loud environment could interfere perfectly at a single point, such as on a person or building, and cause damage?

This weird occurrence seems unreasonable to me. I'd say it has the lowest possibility than anything and for such a phenomenon to occur...

  • All those waves (low energy noises) shouldn't be absorbed, the reflected waves should be coherent with the other waves of similar pitch in order to undergo perfect constructive interference
  • Finally, the resultant wave(s) should be focused on a person or building.

In theory, we can show that if these waves do interfere, they'd add up to some harmful high-pressure region traveling at speed of sound. But in reality, there's always some interruption for this to happen that make these to be the lowest probabilistic factors one can consider.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.